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the official distractions website

Welcome to the official Distractions website. We will be aiming to record the history of one of the greatest, but least heralded, of all Manchester beat groups.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Factory product

In this article, in the 29th September 1979 issue of Melody Maker, Mary Harron discusses Factory Records and their bands - Joy Division, Orchestral Manoeuvres, A Certain Ratio and The Distractions.  Article thanks to NME's History of Rock and Roll; photos by Kevin Cummins.

Factory Products: food for thought

Lots of people thought that Operation Julie was a bit of an anachronism.  Who, in the late Seventies, could be dropping all those tabs?  It almost certainly isn't the folks at Factory Products, but MARY HARRON knows it's no accident that they called their company after Andy Warhol's legendary Sixties sweatshop.  Is granny taking trips all over again, this time in Manchester?

Tony Wilson thinks The Distractions are like one of the early psychedelic bands that sprang up in Austin, Texas in 1966 - the ones found on the "Nuggets" albums - but I think he's letting his theory run away with him there.  They are much more of a new wave version of Merseybeat.  Mike Finney, the lead singer, says: "When we started, everyone saw us as post-Hamburg Beatles, but we didn't intend it to be that.  We hoped we were doing something original."

On stage Finney looks like an engaging junior bank clerk, in his glasses and three-piece suit; the bass player, Pip Nicholls, looks like Tina Weymouth's kid sister.  Seeing them perform in Manchester was a reminder of how different the atmosphere is in clubs up North.  There, unlike in London, you find the true Saturday night - the undercurrent of excitement that comes from dressing up for the week's evening out.  On the dance floor, a froup of teenage boys went through a strange, ritual scrimmage - pretending to attack but touching only lightly - like cubs play-fighting.

The group have only been playing a year, and the inexperience shows.  The first half of their set was clumsy and boring; the second half confident and exciting.  At their best they are full of energy and charm, with only one danger ahead: if they get any more charming, they will be cute.

The Distractions are the only group on Factory records who can say, without hesitation, what their songs are about: "They're all love songs, ranging from disappointment to hatred."

Guitarist Adrian White [Wright] explains that "everyone has this perfect image of love.  It's like an image of paradise that can never be.  And when it doesn't work out, you hate it."  Mike Finney adds that "in real life - which none of us know much about, apart from signing on - there's no way you can make love last forever.  But it was be nice if it did, which is why we sing about it."

Their modern love songs include "Waiting For The Rain", about bi-sexual love, and "One Way Love" - "When we sing that everyone thinks it's about this imaginary girlfriend.  Actually, it's about masturbation."

The Distractions. (c) Kevin Cummins.

What makes The Distractions more than just charming, and more than a revival, is the rawness in their music and the fact they deal with aspects of life that the early boy/girl songs wouldn't touch.  "Pillowfight", the B-side of their new single, is a song about infidelity that manages to pack a whole range of conflicting emotions - jealousy, hurt, curiosity, pity, resentment - into a few words:

     What did you waken up to find lying next to you
     Just a man whose taken up your time is that really you
     Did you fall for sympathy made you easy game
     Is he your kind I bet you don't know his name.

AFTER this single, Factory Records expect The Distractions to sign with a major label, and hope the same for all their groups, as only the major companies can pay musicians a living.   Factory sign no contracts, and say that so far mutual trust has worked out.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Innocence and energy

Here is the second half of Jon Savage's Melody Maker review of the Leigh Festival in the 8th September 1979 issue, thanks to NME's History of Rock and Roll.  Photos by Kevin Cummins.

Gathered round the stage (clockwise from top right): Teardrop Explodes, 
The Distractions, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division. All pics: Kevin Cummins.


Leigh Valley Festival

Angst in an East Lancs wasteland

The Distractions, next, are a perfect youth-club band.  Amateur flash, jokey off-the-cuff introductions, fresh beat music with the unselfconsciousness of Sixties punk/folk plus sharper lyrics.

They run through a batch of great pop songs: "Maybe It's Love", "Waiting For The Train", "One Way Love", and the new 45, "Time Goes By So Slow".  Innocence and energy.  They cocked-up the break in their disco stab, "Sick & Tired", and it didn't really matter at all.

THE sun went in: it was Teardrop Explodes' unenviable task to counteract the increasing cold and late-afternoon lethargy.  Their careful, bright sound of precise guitar, fish-and-chip organ and attacking rhythm section seemed to freeze in the cold air and the distance between the (oversize) stage and the (undersize) audience.

Initially, they could sound contrived, but a warmth quickly shows through on record; live this came through near the end of their set - "I Go Crazy", "Sleeping Gas" and a more dynamic version of their new 45, "Bouncing Babes".  I think the elements are all there - but the spark?  Perhaps in a more sympathetic situation.

Due to the (unavoidable) attentions of the drug squad, your reviewer missed most Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.  What he did see - a song called "Mr Reality" with taped saxophone, the future hit "Electricity" and a passable electronic version of "Waiting For My Man" (which, at least, came out into the open about the frank Velvets influence of most bands playing) - didn't alter his impression that he'd rather listen to the nice record, thank you.  A good live sound - the two members playing keyboards and occasional bass, the rest of the instruments on reel to reel - a reasonable if gawky presence, and awful clothes (that's important!).

The Distractions (Adrian Wright left, and Mike Finney). Pic: Kevin Cummins.

Echo & the Bunnymen caught a quickening of mood, exploiting the drama of darkening sky and simple but effective stage lighting, and played an excellent set: ringing, passionate pop Velvets - endless rhythm guitar and crossing lead slashes, electronic percussion - with Ian McCullough's strong vocals, hinting at Neil Young's romantic melancholy.  Fuller versions of their current single than on record - "Read It In Books", "Pictured On My Wall" - and new, equally memorable songs, "All That Jazz" and "Star On Stars".  A new romanticism.

Joy Division come into the dark like a late-night horror movie - scary but right.  Sabotaged to an extent by poor sound - the interplay between instruments needs more careful preparation than the time allowed - they exorcised the increasing cold with cinematic, metallic blocks of noise.

Songs from the album - "Insight", "She's Lost Control" among others, the new single "Transmission", and the unrecorded "Colony", "Dead Souls" (with a stunning chorus) and the final "Sound Of Music".  Two encores, and general dancing.

Apply the truism: you should have been there.  - JON SAVAGE.

Leigh Festival. (c) cityfunfan at tumblr.

(c) Jon Savage - NME's History of Rock and Roll.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Angst in an East Lancs wasteland

The first half of Jon Savage's review of the Leigh Festival in Melody Maker on 8th September 1979, courtesy of NME's History of Rock and Roll.  Photos by Kevin Cummins.

Angst in an East Lancs wasteland

ZOO met Factory half-way (between Liverpool and Manchester) and very few came.

Blame it on the site - hastily prepared fields a mile outside Leight, surrounded by an East Lancs landscape of collieries, slag-heaps, bare hills sloping into dull 1930s estates and the inevitable Victorian mill.  Inaccessibility and uncertain weather, plus inadequate promotion / media coverage, resulted in a turn-out (200) a tenth of the original estimate.

Apart from a more relaxed, intimate atmosphere, this meant a top-heavy and intrusive police presence (a ratio of about 1:5) which didn't go away; preferring instead ti impose searches on as many people as they could get their hands on . . .

Eight bands: all, save openers Crawling Chaos (from Durham; a punk Hawkwind), from the North-West, all involved with either Factory or Zoo.  The earnest and slightly exaggerated coverage afforded to both labels would have led you to expect a large turnout, whatever the weather: obviously people don't always take the press to heart (thank God).

Sometimes - to - they miss what's on their doorstep.  Both Manchester and Merseyside are centres - important, still alive and innocent; both labels are exposing and servicing a gap in the market with care, style and panache.  So don't overburden it!

Their crunch comes soon: any of the bands playing today (bar Chaos) could be very successful - with the usual tangibles: promotion / leasing / management / bribery / whatever hype - and so pass outside the labels' current capabilities.  Distribution deals and advances . . . is an intermediate and position possible and tenable?

Due to organisational inefficiency, things ran late from the outset; curtailed sets were necessary throughout.  A Certain Ratio played five numbers: inverted funk with an amusing visual anomally.  Four rationed and undersized Forties youths concentrating furiously in front of an extrovert black drummer in baseball cap and shorts; the music is a similar (and effective) mix of functional, drab, grey thrashings - trebly guitars scrubbed rhythmically and stylised, crooned vocals - and a massive, blarring rhythm section - booming melodic bass and pounding drums.  Titles: "I Fail", "Crippled Child" and the (revamped) 45 "All Night Party".

Moving out of embryo, ACR hint that they might clean up - get marketed and rich - in an area (an art/disco crossover) where The Pop Group's qualms left them high and dry.

[next: The Distractions]

Gathered round the stage (clockwise from top right): Teardrop Explodes, 
The Distractions, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division. All pics: Kevin Cummins.

(c) Jon Savage - NME's History of Rock and Roll.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Another time and era

The End of the Pier featured in Penny Black Music's 'Vinyl Stories' recently, picked by the editor, John Clarkson.

Vinyl Stories : John Clarkson 
Author: Dave Goodwin
Published: 31/07/2013

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of 'Vinyl Stories', and what a way to start it too. 

Vinyl Stories is a chance to dive into people's vinyl collection whether it be albums, 12" singles or the good old 7".  It may be a chance to polish some of those 10" 78s too as long as it is vinyl and to find out about why they bought them, when, who for, where from and so on.  A life story in vinyl if you like. 

This year is Pennyblackmusic's fifteenth anniversary.  So to kick off the column, I couldn't think of anyone finer to nail down to the floorboards and rummage through their collection with than our own gaffer. 

Born in November 1965, John Clarkson was educated in Edinburgh, but spent three years at Loughborough University of Technology (as it was then) between 1983 and 1986.  He returned to Edinburgh in 1986, and has worked there for the last twenty-seven years.  John has been editing the Pennyblackmusic Magazine since the site first went online in September 1998. 

Over the years, John has built himself a great collection of the beloved black wax, and has picked out six albums from it that have clearly featured in his life so far.  John's favourite Vinyl Stories start here.

1. Stranglers/'Rattus Norvegicus' (1977).

2. David Bowie/'The Best of Bowie' (1980)

3. Friends Again/'Trapped and Unwrapped' (1984)

4. The Clash/'London Calling' (1979)

5. Kepler/'Fuck Fight Fail' (2000)

6. The Distractions/'The End of the Pier' (2012)

The story of The Distractions - this English new wave band who got back together to record a second LP thirty-two years after the first despite one of their principal members living in New Zealand - is remarkable in itself.

It was our writer Malcolm Carter who introduced them to me, an he has since done a lot to promote them on the site with two interviews and various reviews.

Their label Occultation Recordings is run by Nick Halliwell, a long-term fan, who ended up becoming both their producer and one of their guitarists.  Occultation Recordings have done a CD edition of 'The End of the Pier', but the vinyl edition is the one to go for.   It had a slightly more rugged and earthy sound that suits The Distractions, and its packaging like that of 'London Calling' is a work of art.  Its front cover photograph of a massive old pier signifies something of another time and era, but which continues to hold great durability - very much like The Distractions themselves.

(c) Dave Goodwin at Penny Black Music.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A new pop star

In this review by Adrian Thrills in the NME on 29th September 1979, The Distractions get more column inches than the group they supported.


Joy Division
The Distractions


The news is out.  The hot poop of a new 'new pop' hitpack is in our midst in the shape of Manchester's latest contribution to the great British pop renaissance.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . The Distractions!

In the wake of an excellent second single on Factory in 'Time Goes By So Slow', my expectations for this, the fivesome's London debut, were high.

I didn't go away disappointed.

Onstage, The Distractions are a surprisingly different kettle of kinetic excitement to their mighty single.  A fair slice of the stylish subtlety and elegance they muster in the studio is lost in the confines of a live set.  In its place is a rough abrasion and an occasionally wacky exuberance that recalls nothing so much as the infection joie de vivre of The Mekons.

Their rapport with the crowd could best be described as 'chummy'.

Guitarist Steve Perrin spends most of his time between-songs making dedications to various members of the audience, including your reviewer.  In the centre of the stage, vocalist Mike Finney cuts an unlikely figure.  A sort of suave Billy Bunter type character in a dinner jacket.  "Yeah, it looks very smart," he quips at one stage, "until you notice all the beer stains!"

The set started badly with Finney's guttural, nasal voice coming across with none of the force of the record; but it grew in momentum with every song.

With initial nerves giving way to an obvious relish of actually being on stage, the group reached a peak on the yearning 'Time Goes By' and the closing 'Valerie': "I love Valerie, but Valerie's in love with you."

The only real black spot of the evening came with the encore, an unamusing murder of Betty Wright's 'Shoorah Shoorah' that was hardly worthy of The Dickies.  Nevertheless, it provided a good balance for what followed: the disorientating hard rock of Joy Division.

Compared to Joy Division, most oth bands working in supposedly left field areas are like light entertainers on the Saturday Night Special.

Never a group to conform to expectations, they opened with the new 'Atmosphere', an Eno-esque dirge of awesome proportions with guitarist Bernard Albrecht on organ and vocalist Ian Curtis on the unaccustomed role of guitarist.

From there on, it was the usual set, split equally between standards from the 'Unknown Pleasures' album and a welter of typically graphic new songs.

Like Gang of Four and the Banshees, each instrument retains a crisp, distinctive identity: the overloaded, distorted Rickenbacker bass of Peter Hook; Albrecht's incisive guitar figures; the primal, syndrum-embellished thwack of Steve Morris; and the gruff intensity of Curtis's vocal.

Fellow Mancunians Buzzcocks are a brave band indeed to take Joy Division on their forthcoming UK tour as main support.  I can think of very few groups who are capable of following them.

Adrian Thrills

Mike Finney of The Distractions. Pic: Kevin Cummins.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The last bus

Here's the second half of David Hepworth's article in the July 1980, issue 3 of The Face.  Thanks to Jackie Whatmough for the scan.

Distracted Distractions (l to r): Steve Perrin, Adrian Wright, 
Mike Finney, Pip Nicholls, Alec Sidebottom.  Photo: Paul Slattery.


Alec: "Everybody else was experimental and we weren't..."

Mike: "... so we were in effect the only experimental band..."

Guitarist Adrian Wright, bassplaying Pip Nicholls (caught on the rebound from a Buzzcocks audition) completed the line up and they progressed towards a contract with Island via the gorgeously titled "You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That" and "Time Goes By So Slow", both garnering encouraging press reactions.

If they have subsequently succumbed to the blandishments of the London record business, it's well concealed; their openness and friendliness is most disarming.  They admit to remembering the days when you could obtain a decent Frozen Jubbly for less than 12p, which puts them in the middle twenties, or, as Alec drily observes, older than Buzzcocks but too young to quality for Crass.

The Distractions' music is short on bitterness, long on bemusement.  It takes a fuddled glimpse at life through the streaky windows of the last bus.  Finney stresses that each song, with the exception of the old Eden Kane chestnut, "Boys Cry", is derived from a specific experience.  I'm assured that "Waiting For Lorraine" would never have come about had Perrin not had the misfortune to have four girlfriends in succession turn gay on him.  It seems a plausible thing to happen to a Distraction.

The cover of "Nobody's Perfect" is a beauty.  Hypercool model girl mooching round art gallery executes doubletake while passing portraits of deeply uncool Distractions.

"Everybody isn't handsome and successful with women in this world," says Alec.  "80% of the population probably aren't - and we just reflect that."

Talk of women brings us to round to Pip, whose gender isn't exactly advertised.  "I was in the band a month before I knew," says Alec, still incredulous.  "I was talking to her once and she said 'Oh... I'm a girl'.  These bloody swines never told me."


(c) The Face, No3, July 1980

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